by Rebecca on November 4, 2010
Smithsonian National Museum of American History-We enjoyed seeing Julia Child’s kitchen, the original star spangled banner, First Lady fashion exhibition, and the Abraham Lincoln exhibit. I was a bit disappointed by the small size of the pop culture display (only 5 items or so), as I thought there was going to be a lot more, though I was excited to see a pair of ruby slippers and Kermit. The exhibit on all the wars that American has fought in was very long and somewhat depressing.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum-Our visit to this museum was short, we had already been to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History that day and were tired, but we also had a short list of things we wanted to see here. Top of our list was the 1903 Wright Flyer, which was really awesome to see in person. We also saw the Spirit of St. Louis and several rockets from the space program.
National Archives and Records Administration-It was very cool to see the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of rights! The Magna Carta was also on loan from the United Kingdom, so that was a neat bonus.
Library of Congress-The Library of Congress is GORGEOUS! I was expecting something grand like the main branch of the New York Public Library, but the LOC is over the top in its opulence. There are beautiful statues, mosaics, and murals everywhere you look. They offer a free tour, I recommend taking it so you don’t miss a glimpse of the main reading room.
The White House-We got tickets to a tour of the White House through our senator’s office. It’s recommended that you contact your senator or representative’s office up to 6 months in advance to reserve your tickets. The tour went above and beyond our expectations. We saw a lot more that I thought we would including the majority of the main rooms on the first floor of the house, including the East Room and the State Dining Room.
Capitol Building-We also contacted our senator’s office for tickets to a tour of the capitol building. The tour was very informative. The Rotunda (the room under the dome) is beautiful full of statues, an amazing mural, paintings, and carvings.! Make sure you also ask for passes to visit the Senate and House chambers, we forgot to and had to hike over to Debbie Stabenow’s office to pick them up. They weren’t in session, but it was still cool to see and they look much smaller in person compared to on TV!
Arlington National Cemetery-Obviously, as a cemetery, a visit to Arlington can be quite depressing, but I still think it is a good idea to visit. We saw the memorials to the Challenger and Columbia shuttle crews, as well as the grave sites of JFK and Jackie, Joe Louis, and President Taft (the only president to also serve in Congress and sit on the Supreme Court). We also witnessed the changing of the guards at the tomb of the unknown soldiers.
Marine Corps War Memorial-This memorial is HUGE! I’ve seen pictures of it before, but never realized it was so big. It’s not a far walk from Arlington National Cemetery.
The National Mall (Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial)-Make sure you have on good walking shoes on the day(s) you tackle the National Mall! We loved them all, but I think my favorite was the FDR Memorial. It’s set-up like a series of “rooms,” so I liked how you interacted with the memorial. The WWII Memorial was also impressive and Dave looked up his grandfather in the database and there was a picture and a short summary of his military service, which was cool to see.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial-What else to say other than it was very moving sight to see.
Mount Vernon-A nice day trip, accessible by bus from the Metro. We spent a little over 2 hours exploring the grounds and touring the house. You get a timed ticket for the tour, but this time is only for when you go to wait in line not for when the tour starts, expect to wait in line 30-45 minutes. The grounds have extensive gardens, unfortunately the main garden and greenhouse were closed for restoration while we were there.
US Botanic Gardens-This place was a photographers dream, beauty wherever you looked! The collection is impressive and includes a ton of orchids.
National Zoo-The National Zoo exceeded our expectations. It’s rather small, but nicely done and they’re doing a lot of construction on improving several of the habitats. By far the best experience was with the pandas! We got there early and both the Giant Pandas and the Red Pandas were out and really active. The rope highway for the orangutans was also awesome and very unique.
International Spy Museum & Operation Spy-The International Spy Museum is full of actual artifacts from CIA and KGB spies as the museum was created by former members of both organizations. Not much fun for little kids as there is a lot of reading. However, the Operation Spy would be a lot of fun for older kids (and adults). Operation Spy is an activity where you along with your small group participate in a “real” spy mission throughout the museum. It was a lot of fun!
Smithsonian American Art Museum & National Portrait Gallery-Huge art museum! We checked out the presidential portrait gallery and a couple of special exhibits, including a collection of Norman Rockwell pieces from the collections of Steven Speilberg and George Lucas and a portrait of modern Americans, which was mostly, but not completely made up of photographs.
Supreme Court-There are two options when you go to visit the Supreme Court: one, you can sit down and watch an entire case or two, you can sit and watch 3-5 minutes of a case. We did the later, twice. The first time, after waiting an hour and a half, they sat us pretty much behind a giant pillar and could barely see anything. The second time, we were planning on staying for the entire case, but the line was really long, so we tried the 3-5 minute version again, this time it paid off and were were able to see everything.
Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History-We checked out this museum on our last day when we had time to kill. My favorite exhibit was all about forensic anthropology and identifying several bodies from very early English settlements in America. The rest was usual natural history museum fare: skeletons, dioramas, stuffed animals, etc.
Hoped you enjoyed joining me on a virtual vacation to our nation’s capitol. Up next, the food!